by Marisa Garcia
A 17-hour flight might not be so bad sitting in these. Qantas has revealed the new “Premium Economy” cabin for its new 787-9 Dreamliner planes, featuring a unique seat designed to cradle the body during long journeys. The airline worked with U.K.-based Thompson Aero Seating and designer David Caon to customize the seat from the ground up, delivering a premium economy experience which is like nothing else you’ll find in the skies.
Phil Capps, Qantas’ head of customer product and service development, said that the entire premium economy cabin was designed to make the airline’s very long-haul flights extra comfortable. “We recognize that Australia is a long way from many in the world. The routes that we fly are the longest many fliers will experience—as long as seventeen and a half hours,” he said. “It’s important that we create the right experience onboard.”
The premium economy cabin will accommodate 28 passengers, in a 2-3-2 layout. This avoids overcrowding and makes the cabin a comfortable private space. Seats maintain a separation of 38-inch pitch and seats are up to 22.8-inches wide, offering a 9.5-inch recline. “It’s a seat that they haven’t used for any other airline in the world, featuring a new pivot mechanism,” Capps said. “The seat back angles backward and the pivot mechanism moves the back and the bottom slightly higher. The entire seat goes on an arch, so that your entire body is cradled. It’s almost like you’re flying in Zero G.” When extended, a one-of-its-kind foot-rest and leg-rest supports the lower legs completely on a webbed hammock.
The airline took a risk introducing a new seat structure, when other carriers opt to tailor catalogue models, but Capps feels it’s an ideal fit for Qantas. “We expect the seat’s features will resonate with a whole spectrum of our customers. Many business travelers are traveling in premium economy,” he said. “It will resonate with our corporate customers, but also with leisure travelers looking for a particularly high standard of premium.”
The seat is also loaded with entertainment features, including three power outlet options—two individual USB ports for devices and a shared international power outlet for laptops. There’s a 25-percent larger, high-definition in-flight entertainment screen, and a seat-back shelf that can hold tablets in place at an ideal viewing angle.
“We realize that customers now travel with multiple devices and we ensured that there is more choice onboard for passengers. It was key to have the embedded capacitive touch screens with high definition, but we didn’t want to restrict customers to using just that entertainment,” said Capps. “We wanted them to be able to put their own tablet in front of the monitor and USB chargers just next to that to keep devices charged.”
The seat seems almost designed to live in: There are five separate storage locations for personal items. These include a generous literature pocket which can hold a laptop and a dedicated storage area on the seat back, which serves as a glove compartment, ideal for small items like glasses and eyeshades, styluses and pens, or skin cream and lipstick. And Qantas added an individual mood and reading light giving passengers a broader choice of lighting conditions.
“We have the overhead lights on the 787, but there is a lot of night in the ultra long-haul sectors,” Capps said. “The seat light lets passengers create a pool of light in their immediate environment, without disturbing others around them.” Qantas also solved the dilemma of many airline seat headrests by designing a unique attachable pillow for the seat. Capps tells T+L that nothing can really beat a good quality pillow for long-haul comfort: “The headrest joined to the seat itself is very simple, but the back of the pillow case attaches to the headrest,” he said. “You can adjust the pillow to the exact position you want.”
Qantas also offers unique duvet/sheet made from woven material on top and a soft fabric on the underside to pair with the pillow for sleeping, or just to keep the legs warm. Sydney-based designer David Caon, who worked on the design of this new seat, has also worked with Qantas on other programs including the interiors of the airline’s Airbus A380, the refurbishment program for the airline’s fleet of Boeing 717s and Boeing 737s, as well some of Qantas’ International lounges including Hong Kong and Singapore.
“We developed and designed all the textiles for the three different classes on the Dreamliner. The fabrics have each been designed as a story from business to the back of economy,” Caon said. “It is designed as a progression, so that the colors transition as you go back through the cabin.”
The Premium Economy cabin also harmonizes with the passenger experience at Qantas lounges and other Qantas aircraft. “The seat looks human and comfortable, without hard edges,” Caon said. “There are a lot of little details, just the way the panels come together, for example. The seat back cover has two indents and we wanted them to be 10 mm wide, giving the cover a new dimension, this added detail complexity because the indents are not made with stitching but using heat instead.”
Details aside, he believes passengers will be delighted with how the seat reclines. “From a passenger perspective, what I noticed is that it reclines more than people think it might from the pictures. It really supports the human body. It achieves ergonomics for a broad range of passengers,” he said.
Qantas has carefully crafted a lifestyle brand which carries through to this new product. The airline has been deliberate in its choices, balancing between style and function which appeals to globe-trotters. “It was very important that whatever we did fit in the overall picture of the brand. It’s a very important brand for Australians and iconic,” Caon said. “The design is an extension of what Qantas means to people around the world. One of the most important things about the aesthetics is that understated elegance. It’s sophisticated in a technological and technical way.”
Qantas will soon reveal more plans for the Dreamliner, including dedicated amenities for Premium Economy and a meal-service program designed to suit the body clock crossing multiple time-zones. Capps tells us this menu is currently under development with its chef Neil Perry and a university partner which will help consider food’s impact on circadian rhythms.
The first of eight new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, featuring the Premium Economy seat, will be delivered to Qantas in October 2017. Qantas will first launch international 787 services with a flight in December between Melbourne and Los Angeles. Flights between Perth and London—offering the first direct link between Australia and Europe—will launch in March 2018.
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